4 In Hiking + The Outdoors/ Texas/ Travel

The Desert of Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park has three distinct sections of hikes: mountain hikes, desert hikes and river hikes. My dad and I were sure to do at least one hike in each section. The hikes we chose for our desert section were Tuff Canyon and the Chimneys Trail.

⋙ Chimneys Trail:

This 4.8 mile hike follows a rock-lined path that cuts right through a section of the Chihuahua Desert to a collection of rocks gathered with funky shapes and formations. Be sure to being plenty of water and try to avoid this hike in the heat of the day as there is no shade on this trail until you get to the chimneys.

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This is a view of the chimneys in the distance [the lowest section see in the above photo]


Big Bend is home to over 1000 species of plant-life, but my favorite of these were the amazing and unique desert succulents & cacti. Even at home I’m a succulent & cacti lover, so my dad was constantly having to wait on me to snap photos of each different variety I saw.

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This photo shows the rock trail and the chimneys are starting to appear to be a bit closer


Native American Petroglyphs lined one of the rock-faces. These made a beautiful addition to the many reasons to take this hike. Along this same rock there were Native American cliff dwellings and under the overhangs and in that surrounding area were several mortar holes used my past Native cultures to grind up grain or other food material.

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An example of one of the many mortar holes we saw 


Chimneys Arch from below – we were sure to climb up to the other side


Looking out across the desert toward Chimneys Arch


When looking through the window of Chimneys Arch you see this rock formation – this is the same one with the petroglyphs, dwellings and the much-needed shade.

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There wasn’t a better seat in the house.


⋙ Tuff Canyon

Tuff Canyon is a .75 mile loop that comes over three overlooks. We did a bit of a different route around Tuff Canyon, though. We were standing on the first overlook and I was taking a video looking out over the canyon with my iPhone while my dad was setting up his wrap-around tripod to take a photo of the two of us. I turned around to smile for the camera and just before the photo snapped the camera started to tilt and he jumped forward to straighten it back up – in the process of doing that he knocked my phone right out of my hand and straight down into the canyon. We looked over the canyon to watch it bounce off the wall and then land in the bottom. We went on a salvage mission down into the canyon so I could get the photos off the phone. We reached the bottom where we could see the rail of the first overlook and looked for a shattered phone. My phone (which wasn’t in a case) was laying facedown, but when I picked it up and turned it over I found that the screen was completely intact!!! There were some scrapes and chunks of metal taken out on the sides, but no real damage done!



I can’t say for sure how tall this canyon is, but the man at the bottom (second from left) was about 6 feet tall. 

When you visit Big Bend be sure to spend some time in each of the sections because each has its own beauty. Take the time to enjoy the mountain peaks, the little details like the succulents & Native American artifacts of the desert and the amazingness of traversing canyons cut by the Rio Grande & looking across the river into a country with such a different lifestyle from your own.

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  • Reply
    March 27, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Hey Paige, do you have any information or dates regarding those petroglyphs? I’ve never gotten that far south (nor do I know much about the southern cultures in the SW… yet) and they look very different from Puebloan, Sinaguan, or Hohokam images. I believe I recall the area came under Mogollon influence and Mesoamerican influence at different points but the glyphs don’t resemble what I’ve seen of either of those culture’s imagery so I was thinking maybe they’re earlier (Middle or Late Archaic?). Anyway, do you happen to know?? Also, were the cliff dwellings different from others you’ve seen? Thanks!!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      Everything I’ve read (which is limited) says they’re from the Chisos Native Americans. They were hunter/gatherer bands 1500-1800-ish, so they were more nomadic, but there really wasn’t a lot of information about them in this park.

      The only petroglyphs I’ve really seen have been in Utah and were mostly Anasazi & Navajo, so they looked different to me too. The cliff-dwelling was different because there wasn’t much man-made structure to it (I’m assuming due to them being a more nomadic band). It was more of just a convenient nook in this rock formation. It reminded me a lot more of the cliff & cave dwellings here in the Ozarks – more of just finding an overhang of a bluff or ducking into a cave. A lot of the dwellings I’ve seen in the SW bring images of Mesa Verde and Canyon de Chelly to mind and this was very much not that.

      I LOVE talking archaeology! Like I said, this is all just from what I read online because the park didn’t offer a lot of information about the native cultures. It focused a lot on the settlers & ranchers, which was interesting in its own way, but I wish it had been a bit more balanced.

      • Reply
        March 27, 2016 at 6:28 pm

        Thank you for all the info!! I know nothing about the Chisos or the nomadic tribes living that far south in the late prehistorical era so this was all new to me. It totally makes sense too that their dwellings wouldn’t have been very elaborate since they were primarily nomadic. It’s unfortunate however that Big Bend focused more on the settlers and ranchers at the expense of prehistorical inhabitants but I suppose that if there’s little physical evidence left of them most people wouldn’t be that interested.
        Thanks again. I love talking archaeology too; someday we’ll have to get nerdy together. I’d love to pick your brain too about anthropology and cultures. I never studied any anthropology in college (only archaeology proper, and only in relation to historical societies) and so I’m always curious to learn about how people lived in prehistoric cultures, how they used their environment, at what point (and why) they choose to become more sedentary/agricultural, and how this led to the development of their belief systems and unifying cultural elements. Anyway, I’ll be looking up the Chisos tonight and seeing what I can learn about them!

  • Reply
    Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service - For the Love of Wanderlust
    April 18, 2016 at 8:00 am

    […] Big Bend National Park was my most recent National Park adventure. I took my last father/daughter trip with my dad as a ‘Brown’ here, since I’m getting married in June. I love this park because it has a lot of diversity. There are the mountains, the desert & the river with loads of canyons to explore, archaeological sites and even a hot spring! There is so much to do here and even though we only covered 22 miles of this park, I feel like we saw some really incredible sites. My favorite hikes from each are Lost Mine Trail [mountains – pictured above], Chimeys Trail [desert] & Hot Spring Canyon Trail [river]. This park is in the middle of nowhere, is unique and is sure to have something for everyone. […]

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